William Eichler 23 January 2017

1957 ‘happiest’ year of the twentieth century, study reveals

The Victorian’s were ‘happier’ than we are today and 1957 was the ‘happiest’ year of the twentieth century, new research into the relationship between happiness and public policy reveals.

A new study by the Social Market Foundation released today used computational linguistics to calculate the appearance of positive and negative words in eight million books to track changing patterns in happiness across the UK, Italy, the USA, France, Spain and Germany.

Carried out in conjunction with the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE), the research found no connection between economic growth and happiness in the long run, but economic instability and downturns do lead to ‘plummeting’ levels of well-being.

In 1957 life expectancies and GDP were lower, more hours were worked in a typical week and very few households had central heating and less than half owned a television – but levels of public happiness were at a height never reached again in the British post-war period.

The report suggested happiness was closely related to factors such as aspirations and expectations. We are unhappier now than in the Victorian era because we have higher aspirations.

Daniel Sgroi, one of the report’s authors and associate professor at the University of Warwick, called for a greater consideration of happiness when designing public policy.

‘A greater focus on happiness in policy-making could also shape policy-making procedures right from their conception,’ he said.

‘If this approach were taken to its logical conclusion, the next public spending round in a nation like the UK would consist of the different government departments presenting their sets of policies with estimated costs and happiness benefits.’

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